Just like Peter and Andrew, James and his brother, John, are disciples of Jesus. Since the Bible usually lists James first and John second, we can assume James is older. Peter, James, and John make up Jesus’s inner circle.
Mark records an interesting nickname that Jesus gives the brothers. He calls them “the Sons of Thunder.” This suggests the boys might be loud when they talk, perhaps like their dad.
Though once James and John ask Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village who rejected them—Jesus says, “No”—the Bible doesn’t give any other examples of brazen behavior by the boys. Yet calling them the Sons of Thunder suggests otherwise.
This might be a family characteristic, too, because James’s mom does something bold for her boys. She goes to Jesus and asks him to honor her sons by letting them sit on Jesus’s right and left when he rules his kingdom. Again, Jesus says, “No.”
Like Andrew, whom the Bible usually mentions along with brother Peter, the same occurs for James, who’s usually paired with brother John. Even though James is part of Jesus’s inner circle, he doesn’t seem to play a vital role in Jesus’s ministry or in the early church.
In the book of Acts, we read that King Herod (2) arrests some of Jesus’s followers to harass them. This includes James, whom Herod executes. James becomes an early martyr of the church (after Stephen).
Though Jesus selects James to be his disciple and includes him in his inner circle of confidants, it seems James doesn’t live up to the promise Jesus sees in him—or perhaps his premature death keeps him from reaching his potential.
We each have potential to serve God and help others. Do we live up to what God sees in us or fall short? Are we doing all we can today, in case we’re not around tomorrow?
[Discover more about James in Matthew 20:20–24, Mark 3:17, Luke 9:52–55, and Acts 12:1–2.]
Read more about other biblical characters in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.